Building brands in a changing society

Buying into big issues with every chocolate bar

Does the well-being of cocoa farmers and their communities in Ghana matter to North American consumers when they’re reaching for a chocolate bar? Cadbury seems to think so.

Following Cadbury’s fair-trade certification of its Dairy Milk line, the company launched a marketing and public relations campaign, “See the big fair trade picture,” across Canada in summer 2010. This is but one component of a larger social responsibility initiative that includes fair trade certification in major markets worldwide along with a 10-year, $80-million investment in support of cocoa farmers in the developing world.

These are all commendable activities. And yet, does Cadbury’s fair trade investment matter to consumers and will it make a difference at the cash register?

Fair trade is one of a collection of issues with social, environmental, economic or cultural dimensions falling under the sustainability umbrella. These are large, complex issues like carbon footprints and ingredient transparency that corporations themselves are struggling to fully understand and resolve.

Unsurprisingly, a wealth of consumer studies shows that these are not easy issues for the mainstream consumer to digest, let alone use as a basis for brand appreciation or purchase decisions. In general, studies agree that while select consumer segments are increasingly knowledgeable about and acting on sustainability issues, the mainstream consumer still has far to go.

“We’ve seen sophistication and intelligence growing among a core group of people,” said Annie Longsworth, president of Cohn & Wolfe San Francisco, while sharing the results of the ImagePower Green Brands Survey at the Sustainable Brands 2010 conference. “But we also know that there’s a mass of consumers for whom it’s not easy to change perception.”

The Hartman Group’s 2009 study Sustainability: The Rise of Consumer Responsibility found that consumers are aware of some terminology now operating in the cultural domain – concepts like local, fair trade and transparency – but are unsure as to what it all really means. In fact, the study found that while consumer might respond to general ideas of “responsibility” and “doing the right thing,” the term sustainability is still not a household word.

Looking at environmental issues in particular, the Shelton Group’s Eco Pulse and Green Living Pulse 2010 studies reinforce that consumer understanding is still in the early stages. The good news is that “green is officially a mainstream concept,” as noted by Suzanne Shelton, president of the Shelton Group, at Sustainable Brands 2010. “It doesn’t mean everyone is doing it but it’s in their vernacular.”

However, the average consumer knows “a lot less about this stuff than you might think they do,” said Shelton. “There’s a lot of confusion around green and sustainable to the point where almost half the population would rather see the word ‘natural’ on a label.”

Even for consumers who might be characterized as green shoppers, sustainability considerations tend to be secondary to other product attributes when making buying decisions. Deloitte’s 2009 study, Finding the Green in Today’s Shoppers, found that sustainability characteristics on their own – whether pertaining to energy efficiency, reduced packaging or fair trade – are not enough of a reason for the vast majority of consumers to buy a product. They need to see price and performance parity as well.

What this means for Cadbury is that its fair trade investment may not bring a windfall of new consumers to the Dairy Milk brand. For a very small segment of conscientious consumers, perhaps the committed 2% Deloitte found that make most of their product decisions based on sustainability considerations, knowing that Cadbury supports fair trade might be enough to motivate a purchase. For most, however, Dairy Milk still has to be a decent chocolate bar offering good value.


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